Keynote Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, at the National Consultative Workshop on South Africa’s Human Rights Treaty Obligations, held at the Burgers’ Park Hotel, Pretoria, 7 December 2017
Chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission, Prof Majola
Representatives from various government departments
Ladies and gentlemen
On Tuesday this week – the 5th of December – we honoured two of the greatest South Africans our country has ever produced, both men whose legacy live on today.
The one is Nelson Mandela, who passed away on the 5th of December in 2013. The other is Robert Sobukwe, who was born on the 5th of December in 1924.
As we reflect on their lives, we see that humanity was of great significance to both of them. As Mandela said: “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”
And as Sobukwe said: “I wish to make it clear again that we are anti-nobody, we are pro-Africa. We breathe, we dream, we live Africa, because Africa and humanity are inseparable.”
Humanity is best served when we rid society of poverty, inequality and all forms of injustice.
How do we do this? Our Constitution enshrines both civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights.
This comprehensive set of human rights standards forms the bedrock of our constitutional order and places the attainment of human rights for all who live within our country at the centre of all government policy and legislation.
Our National Development Plan reflects not only our Constitutional imperatives but also our deep-set commitment to improving the lives of the poor and marginalised in society.
In a world where we still see horrific violations of human rights, where people face daily discrimination and prejudice on the basis of, for example, their race, religion, ethnic group, gender and sexual orientation, where poverty continues to visit untold hardship and misery on so many of the world’s population, it is apt that we take time to reflect on how far we have come and how far we still have to go.
It then becomes important to formulate specific plans and tailor-make our government interventions and initiatives accordingly.
This entails undertaking the three pillars of human rights treaty obligation imperatives - implementing, monitoring and reporting.
In terms of the various human rights treaties that we have ratified, we have an obligation to report on progress made by way of submitting our Country Reports.
These are then considered by the respective treaty bodies or committees, whereupon they issue recommendations and concluding observations that further guide us on steps to take to give effect to our constitutional and treaty human rights obligations. These are then monitored and reported on in the next periodic reports.
Although each Committee is tasked with considering the progress reported by a State Party on specific areas falling within their respective subject area, the UPR, as well as the African Charter processes, are cross-cutting.
The UPR mechanism, in particular, is a process designed by the UNHRC with the objective of improving the human rights situation in every country. The UPR mechanism is designed to:
(a) Prompt, support, and expand the promotion and protection of human rights on the ground;
(b) Provide technical assistance to States and enhance their capacity to deal effectively with human rights challenges; and
(c) Share best practices in the field of human rights among States and other stakeholders.
But the same can and should apply to all the treaty body reporting mechanisms that we report to.
As the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development we are responsible for a number of human rights treaties, such as -
- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR);
- The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD);
- The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR);
- The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT);
- The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR); and
- The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism under the auspices of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
It must be noted that, although the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development is responsible for drafting and submitting the report to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation for their onward submission to the relevant treaty bodies, on the whole, the implementation of the recommendations and concluding observations received, falls within the responsibility of line-function departments to implement, monitor and provide progress reports on.
This information, which is received from the line-function departments, is then collated and compiled into Country Reports by the DOJCD.
If we are committed to our National Development Agenda, Vision 2030, we must welcome the observations and recommendations issued to us by these human rights treaty bodies, and see them as invaluable tools that can be employed to assist us in realising our own National Development Plan.
Ultimately they guide us in our commitment to the global development agenda espoused in the Sustainable Development Goals roadmap.
We must not view process as “reporting simply for the sake of reporting”, but must recognise that the submission of country reports provides us with an opportunity to showcase the progress that we have made and gives us an opportunity to identify areas of challenge and which will require greater focusing of our efforts.
But most of all, we should never lose sight of the fact that the programmes, strategies, policies and legislative changes we are reporting on and implementing have a direct effect on the people of South Africa - the child-headed households struggling to feed and clothe themselves, the homeless, the dispossessed and discriminated, the poor, the marginalised and the vulnerable.
In essence, that is what we are doing - what you are doing - here today.
And we have made considerable progress in realising human rights in concrete ways.
In 2016, I headed various delegations to engage with the UN Human Rights Committee, the Committee on the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as to the Gambia to engage with the African Commission on South Africa’s periodic African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) country reports.
And in May and September of this year, I headed the delegation that went to Geneva, Switzerland to present our UPR Country Report to the UNHRC.
At the UNHRC, some 34 countries responded to South Africa’s Report and a large number congratulated us on the progress and significant achievements we have made.
So did the SAHRC, who commended the South African government for their extensive participation in the Third Cycle of the UPR mechanism and noted the significant advances made since the last review process.
There is still much work to be done.
The National Action Plan to combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance still needs to be finalised. And the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill is at an advanced stage of finalisation.
We need to redouble our efforts in the areas of social cohesion, nation building and in succeeding in meeting the goals of the NDP.
In considering the recommendations received from the various treaty bodies, we recommit ourselves to the attainment of human rights in our own country, our continent and the world. We do it, as Mandela and Sobukwe said, to the betterment of humanity.
I want to wish you all very productive discussions and a very successful workshop.I thank you.